Mutesa II (1924-1969), a monarch of Buganda, was the last traditional ruler of the Ganda people in Uganda. He was a firm defender of his right to control the destinies of his kingdom in opposition to the rising tide for democratic principles of government within Uganda.
Edward Frederick William Walugembe Mutebi Luwangula Mutesa was born on Nov. 19, 1924, the son of the reigning kabaka, or monarch, Sir Daudi Chwa II. Mutesa's early education was conducted under private auspices and then at King's College, Budo. When his father died in 1939, he was selected to succeed him as kabaka; the state remained under the control of three regents until Mutesa's coming of age in 1942. From 1943 to 1945 Mutesa studied at Makerere University College, Kampala, and from 1945 to 1948 he read history, economics, and law at Magdalene College, Cambridge University.
Mutesa II attained international prominence in 1953. In that year the British secretary of state for colonies delivered a speech in England referring to a possible federation of the British colonies in East Africa. Many Africans were justly fearful of any such move due to the recent example of the British-imposed union of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a step which allowed local European domination of Africans. Mutesa, looking back to Britain's original agreements with Buganda, demanded that his state be given separate independence within a fixed time. In the meantime he refused any Ganda cooperation with British plans to develop Uganda as a unitary state.
When the British proved unable to end Mutesa's opposition, Governor Andrew Cohen had him exiled to Britain on Oct. 30, 1953. This harsh step did not end the crisis, however, since almost all Ganda rallied to support their traditional ruler. The British attempted to run Buganda through a regency, but faced with general non-cooperation plus disturbances which twice led to the imposition of a state of emergency, they had to reconsider the exile. Mutesa was allowed to return to his country on Oct. 7, 1955, by a compromise agreement which fixed Buganda as a province of Uganda and which made the kabaka ruling Buganda a constitutional monarch with no executive powers.
The continuing resistance of Mutesa and his supporters to the British and non-Ganda African schemes for a unified Uganda came to a head in June 1960, when the kabaka called once more for an end to British protection for Buganda; he also announced that Buganda would not participate with the rest of Uganda in the scheduled national elections unless a constitutional decision agreeable to Buganda was decided upon in advance. But elections were held despite Mutesa's stand, allowing Benedicto Kiwanuka and his Democratic party to secure victory; Kiwanuka became the first chief minister of the new internally independent government of Uganda.
And the process leading to a unitary state continued. In 1961 a British commission recommended that Uganda become a unitary democratic state with a strong central government; Buganda was to be allowed a federal relationship under its kabaka within the new state. After hard negotiations on the details, Mutesa bowed to pressure and accepted the agreement in October. A political party under Mutesa's control was founded in Buganda, Kabaka Yekka (Kabaka Alone). It allied with the Uganda Peoples' party of Milton Obote, and the coalition won the election of 1962; Obote was then chosen prime minister, with Uganda receiving its independence from Britain in October 1962.
The Uganda Peoples' party, however, was a modern African political organization opposed to the traditional practices represented by Mutesa. Its alliance with Kabaka Yekka was merely an expedient until Obote was able to command enough support to rule Uganda without Mutesa's participation. By 1964 the trend to Obote's position seemed clear, with members of the Democratic party and Kabaka Yekka increasingly crossing over to join the Uganda Peoples' party. In the meantime Obote circumspectly appointed Mutesa to the ceremonial position of president of Uganda in 1963.
The final crisis came in 1966, when a member of the opposition charged the government with complicity in the illegal passage of gold from the Congo. Obote reacted by suspending the constitution, arresting four ministers, and relieving Mutesa of the presidency. Later in the year he announced a new constitution which abolished the federal status of Buganda. In an unclear interval of charges and countercharges, tenseness grew, leading to hostilities that culminated in the successful storming on May 24, 1966, of the kabaka's palace by central government troops. Mutesa escaped the defeat, eventually reaching safety in the neighboring state of Burundi. He later was granted asylum in Britain and lived in London until his death in November 1969.
Mutesa tells his story in Desecration of My Kingdom (1967). B.A. Ogot and J.A. Kieran, Zamani (1968), places his career in perspective. □